Saturday, October 31, 2009

Birmingham population problem and some possible solutions

In midst of all this controversy with the removal of the mayor Larry Langford and the speculation of who will be the next mayor, the U.S. Census' American Community Survey (ACS) division released their numbers for Birmingham this week.  According to the ACS, the 2008 numbers for the city of Birmingham has 209,639.  However, that greatly conflicts with the numbers that were released by the U.S. Census' 2008 population estimates of 228,196.  One says the city lost 14% of its population whereas the other says only 6% population loss compared to the 2000 numbers of 242,820 inhabitants. The only bright side to this is that population loss has slowed compared to other decades and Birmingham remains Alabama's largest municipality, but the gap between the 2nd largest, Montgomery, is now only about 10,000 to 20,000 depending on which numbers you use.

Regardless, the city is still hemorrhaging population and it's not just white flight as it used to be.  There are a number of black inhabitants that are leaving or bypassing the city although because of the leadership void, crime, and other urban issues that plagues Birmingham.  As usual, the ignorant posters of the Birmingham News website posted their comments talking about blacks being the blame to former mayor Langford and crime.  However one poster's comment stood out the most to me:
Posted by eleoh
October 31, 2009, 12:37PM
What I find so funny is that people want to blame political parties (which really have nothing to do with mayor/city council elections) on the downfall of this city. Quit trying to express your personal disdain! You have corrupt republicans (choose anyone of Bush's closest "friends) and you have corrupt democrats (like Blagojevich) It's politics! The real reason why Birmingham is in a decline is that whites moved away from the city in a mass exodus after Arrington was elected. A lot of these whites also relocated their businesses outside of town (some within a month afterward) and blacks kept in him in office for far too long. I actually had a guy complaining to me about not having a white mayor in the past 30 years! I can appreciate his honesty in him stating the fact that there are some people out there that are frustrated about that alone if nothing else. Yes this leadership could use a good overhaul (and it's coming), but the funny thing is for all of the crap that people talk about over the mountain and Huntsville, they sure love to come here on the weekends and act like imbeciles at these bars and nightclubs. If Birmingham is so dangerous and so bad and run down, why don't they stay where they are? Oh that's right beacuse it's boring as hell in those places that they live in so they have to talk their appeal up so that no visitors would want to hang themselves upon arriving at their bland little town! If these folks have such a haven, then don't further taint our city with your existence. Just stay out if it is that repulsive around here! We don't need the further negativity! Furthermore I am sick and tired of these "keyboard ronin" that talk trash that has either been fuelled by falsehoods or hearsay. If you have not experienced something then you should remain silent about it before you are called out on it. As for those thinking that Birmingham should be like Trashville (there's enough racism here. Why would we want to be like them?), Hot-lanta, or the "scenic" city (which I've been to all three in the past year and after a few hours I got pretty bored with them all) has it ever occured to you that this would be the problem with Birmingham. It's having a bloody identity crisis! Perhaps if this city could profit from it's own place in history (and yeah I'm including civil wars and civil right movements....we can all learn from those mistakes) then it could probably do a lot better than it has been doing. But people are too busy trying to perpetuate their b.s. superiority complexes, their unfounded angst, and their self serving agendas to do anything positive. Once again I'll say it:
"The Birmingham Pledge, as beautifully written as it is, is still b-llsh-t!"
The poster hit the nail on the head because none of these other Southern cities like Nashville or Atlanta can be used as models to fix Birmingham.  Nashville does have a huge racial issues, but that's whole 'nother entry and doesn't have as large black populous as Birmingham.  Then Atlanta sold its soul to the become the mammoth it is today, although it has demographic percentages similar to Birmingham, it would be damn near impossible for Birmingham to achieve the amount of investment as Atlanta in this day and age.  In other words, Birmingham has to find its own solutions to its population and image problem.

Honestly, I don't blame some because Langford was a beacon of controversy with his perverse use of religion to block some things that are vital to the city's revitalization such as allow LGBT groups hold their pride celebrations.  Let's be honest, along with young professional singles, LGBTs are the main individuals willing to locate into a urban core that has been abandoned by middle class families.  Also Birmingham has suffered greatly from a leadership void due to the continuous electing of individuals like Richard Arrington after he outstayed his usefulness/affectiveness as a leader then the de facto city manager Bernard Kincaid and finally the beacon of controversy now former mayor Larry Langford.  After the series of poor choices of mayors, the city as further suffered from business leaving, which were mostly white-owned or retailers too busy trying to chase the majority white households.  That can be overlooked and forgiven because those who left in that aforementioned groups, but none of the last 2 mayors really made it their mission to recruit out-of-state businesses that would have helped Birmingham grow.

In the numbers game, Birmingham for the sake of recognition should try to remain the state's largest city since it is by far the largest metropolitan area with 1.25 million inhabitants in 8 counties.  Only the Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope area is half the region's size with only 540,000 inhabitants, so there is no competition there.  However, in my opinion the city should remain the largest because Birmingham doesn't want to be like Cleveland in Ohio, where it has been dwarfed by Columbus, but still the largest metropolitan region in the state with 2.9 million inhabitants.  The backwards relationship between the 2 cities is interesting since Columbus has the third largest metropolitan area in the state with 1.9 million inhabitants, but is the largest municipality.  Honestly, Birmingham doesn't want wind up as 3rd or 4th in size in the state since 2 of the 'Big 4' in the state around 200,000 and Huntsville is 165,000 or 175,000 (depending on which set of numbers), so if Birmingham doesn't get control on this problem it could come to fruition.

As I see it right now, Birmingham is likely going to bottom out in population around 200,000 like Richmond, Virginia, but unlike Richmond, Birmingham doesn't have 9 Fortune 500 and 15 Fortune 1000 in their region.  Birmingham is only home to 1 Fortune 500, Regions Financial Corp. and 4 Fortune 1000 companies, so we are seriously lacking in the business incubator category.  However, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is located in Birmingham, which is the state's largest employer and is a major hub for medical care, HIV/AIDS and biotechnology research.  There has been some cooperation between Birmingham and UAB with the Innovation Depot located on the western portion of the City Center, but it will take years for it to take-off and create major business spin-offs.  If the city's leadership would work more cohesively with UAB then it could create a major point for research and knowledge-based businesses in Birmingham.  Luckily, there was a state law passed earlier this year that allows the Alabama Development Office (ADO) to recruit more white-collar and knowledge-based business to the state via tax incentives.  Also the recent merger of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, Region 2020, and Metropolitan Development

The leadership should work more diligently towards getting a hold on its crimes, and once again I will used Richmond as a model.  I don't buy into the lists that rank violent crimes per city since, every city has a variety of factors that contribute to its ranking.  In Birmingham's case it's the balkanization of its governmental entities, so empirically speaking Birmingham is actually less dangerous statistically than Chicago, which there have been more cases of random violent crimes although it doesn't rank as high on list like Morgan Quitno. 

Birmingham can fix its problems, but it will take time, patience, diligence, effective business recruitment, fixing of infrastructure, and good leadership.  If we can achieve those things then Birmingham could greatly slow 

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